Your call on the future of iconic red telephone boxes

Photo Emma Mitchell 11.4.16
Milngaive phone box
Photo Emma Mitchell 11.4.16 Milngaive phone box

They are an iconic image of Britishness and were once an essential form of communicating - but have now fallen into disused.

Even through the public love their red telephone box ask them the last time they used one and they would probably shrug and say it was a very long time ago.

But the boxes continue to exert a powerful feeling in most people’s imagination, with strong feeling expressed locally when it is suggested they are removed.

Throughout East Dunbartonshire there is a growing swell of opinion among individuals and community groups that preserving these boxes is something we should do.

Among the suggestions as to what use they could be put to now that the ubiquitous mobile phone has taken over their role are notice spaces for the community.

Danny McFadden, a primary school teacher from Kirkintilloch, who set up a lighthearted website (www.Kirkintillochfoundrychallenge.co.uk) which invites people to send in pictures of the iconic red boxes and the innovative uses they are being put to, said it was amazing that Kirkintilloch was for many years the main producer of these boxes, which have been shipped across the world to the Commonwealth countries.

Danny (53) said: “ Very few people outside of Kirkintilloch know that The Lion Foundry produced most of the icon red phone boxes you see today. I started this website as a tongue-in-cheek thing about two years ago, but it has grown, and people have sent in pictures from throughout the UK and around the world.

“It is amazing the uses people put these boxes too from community notice boards, a picture gallery, coffee outlet or even a life saving defibrillator point.”

Danny says he loved the idea that these boxes are continueing to be of use to the community, and that a piece of industrial history is being preserved for future generations to enjoy.

The Lion Foundry closed in the early 1980s and although there were other foundries produced phone boxes in Stirling and England, according to Danny more boxes were made in Kirkintilloch than all the other factories put together.

“This is a part of our industrial heritage that we need to preserve, he said. “There are phone boxes all over the place and when you have an interest in them, you start to notice them everywhere. There are still many of them scattered across the authority in Bishopbriggs, Milngavie and Bearsden, but as far as I know they are not being used for anything.”

BT, who own most of the boxes have a scheme started in 2008, where communities who do not want to lose their boxes can apply to buy them for a pound and take over the upkeep of them. In Kirkintilloch the local Rotary Club have paid to get the ones next to Nonna’s Kitchen repainted.

BT spokesperson Ian Arnot said no one in East Dunbartonshire had approached BT to adopt one of their boxes yet.

He said: “Of the 31 boxes, four are red. Two are in Alexandra Street Kirkintilloch, one is in Roman Road, Bearsden and the other is in Douglas Street, Milngavie.

“We can remove a public telephone if there’s another within 400 metres. If not we consult with the relevant local authority.

“Across the UK BT operates 46,948 public telephones. 8,497 are red boxes. Nearly 3,000 boxes have now been adopted since the scheme started. In Scotland 144 red phone boxes have been adopted by communities.

The red phone box in Milngavie is at the start of the West Highland Way. Local trader Gilbert McVean said he thought it would make an ideal site for information on the long distance path.

The owner of hardware shop, Iron Chef, said: “The phone box is definitely a feature at the start of the walk and more could be made of it. An information point with leaflets and other information would be a great idea as people come from all over the world to do this trek. My only problem would be with the security of it, but I suppose it could be locked at night with one of the shops nearby having a key to open it again in the morning.”

Another idea suggested is to turn the phone box into a flower planter - hanging rectangular flower boxes from it. However local horticultural group Milngavie in Bloom (MIB) said they had discussed to idea at a recent meeting, but felt they did not have the volunteers to take on such a project at the moment.

Gordon McCorkindale, a past president of Allander Rotary Club said his group would welcome all suggestions on how to utilise old boxes.

He said: “My first reaction is that it would be an ideal place for a defibrillator. But we would support all options.

Thomas Glen, Group Director of Place & Neighbourhood at the council, said: “The council has previously carried out work on the future use of the two red telephone boxes it owns in Kirkintilloch. A number of options have been considered including utilising them as gateway features for the Cowgate public realm project or as a tourist information point on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

“No decisions have been taken yet, however, the council is open to further suggestions and happy to offer advice to any community groups who are considering putting telephone boxes to alternative uses.”